Its All-Ireland hurling day and we have the latest team news along with live score commentary on Cork v Clare, throw in a 3:30pm.
It’s a final pairing that nobody can honestly say they would have predicted the start of the hurling championship. In certain ways it is a fitting end to a great season of hurling. In a championship that was full of upsets and surprises it’s great to see two ‘new’ teams contest for Liam McCarthy. To call Clare and Cork ‘new’ teams is a bit extreme but it is Clare’s first final since 2002 and Cork’s first since 2006. The domination of Kilkenny and Tipperary has faltered this season and Clare and Cork have capitalised more efficiently than any other counties. A great final is in store.
There are a vast number of talking points ahead of this final bout. Both sides are entering the clash with confidence, belief and momentum behind them. It’s hard to point out which team is at a distinct advantage, as both sides seem to cancel each other out in a lot of areas. A look at past meetings this season further adds to the difficulty in predicting the outcome of this contest. Everyone is wondering if we will see a strong tactical battle or a shootout? Both teams are reliant on long range points, both teams have scored and conceded very few goals in the championship and both teams rely on pace and youth. These are just three similarities between the sides and a lot more could be referred to.
At the quarter-final stage, this was the final pairing that I honestly felt would occur. I was not surprised by either of Cork’s victories and while they may have had luck on their side, it’s hard to say that they weren’t worthy winners, deserved of a place in the All-Ireland final. After league relegation I felt Cork would have a good championship. A poster in a sports shop in Cork refers to this team as the ‘New Rebels’ and while it may be a dig at previous players, I think it is a legitimate statement. I always felt this Cork team would only improve without the likes of Donal Óg Cusack, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, John Gardiner and Eoin Cadogan and the extent to which other players have thrived in their absence is clear.
Cork’s loss to Limerick was predominantly down to the loss of Patrick Horgan and I felt that they would bounce back against a struggling Kilkenny. Their win against Dublin had a deal of luck involved but a team makes their own luck as far as I’m concerned and things can often even themselves out and this time Cork got the rub of the green against Dublin that they didn’t get against Limerick. Momentum shifted following Ryan O’Dwyer’s dismissal and Horgan’s goal could easily have turned into a free out on another day, but Cork must still be credited for winning these games this season. Cork hurlers are not only raised to play hurling but they’re raised to win All-Ireland’s, and this is an opportunity that they will not fear.
Clare on the other hand are a team that have learnt a great deal throughout the season. Win, lose or draw Clare have taken something new from each game. They came from behind against Waterford, then crumbled under the favourites tag in the previous game with Cork, they threw away a lead against Wexford but came through in extra time and then they seemed to click against Galway and haven’t looked back since. The extra games have stood to them. As a young side I felt every second on the pitch would enhance their learning. Young players must make mistakes to improve and they made their mistakes early in the championship and have improved gradually.
The managers could have key roles to play this Sunday. I think this game could turn into a tactical battle of minds between Davy Fitzgerald and Jimmy Barry-Murphy. JBM definitely won the tactical battle in the Gaelic Grounds last June, when he man marked Tony Kelly and set the Cork players up to work like trojans to nullify Clare’s short running game. Clare ended up playing into Cork’s hands and they ran out comfortable winners. Cork’s game against Dublin was extremely open and it’s hard to imagine Davy Fitzgerald allowing this to happen. Dublin tightened up in the second-half and they got on top. They were enjoying success and the game turned on a sending off.
Clare have deployed Pat Donnellan as a sweeper very successfully in the last two games against Galway and Limerick. Cian Dillon has been given the man-marking job against the opposition’s strongest forward and he has received ample support from the extra defender. They like to play short but their long deliveries are always kept wide in order to counteract the sweeper at the other end. They have played very intelligent hurling in recent weeks, and the form of their under-21’s will only add to their confidence and momentum.
One would imagine that Clare will play the same way but Fitzgerald may have a trump card up his sleeve. JBM on the other hand will surely know that his players will not be afforded to same space and I think the Cork extra man could easily be placed around the middle in order to crowd that area. If Cork can stop Tony Kelly, Colm Galvin and Colin Ryan by cutting off space, then they may enjoy success elsewhere. Darach Honan and Conor McGrath caused problems for the first 40 minutes against Cork in the Munster championship and they will need to ensure that Clare do not create the same amount of chances this Sunday.
Both teams will look to play at a high tempo so it will be interesting to see if one team may try to slow the other team down. Finals are about winning and nothing else. Neither team will care how they achieve their aim. I think Cork will try to crowd the middle third. Tony Kelly was Clare’s match winner against Limerick with four exquisite points from play. If Cork can stop Clare moving the ball around the middle third then I think they could weaken a lot of Clare’s strengths. They also need to get the match up’s right in the full-back line. I think Stephen McDonnell and Shane O’Neill will be left back with Conor O’Sullivan moving forward.
I would expect Brian Murphy to pick up Padraic Collins and they will be hoping that he will have a similar impact to that of what he had when marking Tony Kelly in the previous encounter. Clare’s defence has also been excellent so far. I think Cian Dillon has had an outstanding season. David McInereney is now looking like the best full-back in the country while Pat O’Connor and Brendan Bugler have also played very well in the half-backs. I imagine that Dillon will pick up Horgan, with Donnellan sitting in front of him. Cork will need their forwards to play as well as they did against Dublin where they had an excellent spread of scores.
So it has been looked at in detail and for all I know totally different scenarios and match-up’s could be seen on Sunday. A lot could also depend on the weather. Rain is forecasted at stages over the weekend and it could have a significant bearing on the outcome. I have looked at both teams and mangers and a lot of them seem to cancel each other out. It’s such a difficult game to call. Part of me thinks that Cork’s name could be on the trophy, they have got a lot of breaks in the championship and it has so many similarities with the 1999 season. Clare on the other hand have so much pace, confidence and momentum that it’s hard to imagine they won’t win.
Realistically, it will all come down to who performs better on the day. Which set of players will deal better with the occasion? Who will be the unsung hero that so often puts in a man of the match performance on All-Ireland final day? Which manager will have their team prepared in the best mental capacity to believe that they can win? Who will start better? Who will finish stronger? These are more questions with few answers. It’s a lottery, but despite being a Cork man, if I was given money to back one team, I think I would go for Clare. Either way it will be a thrilling encounter.
Clare: Patrick Kelly; Domhnall O’Donovan, David McInerney, Cian Dillon; Brendan Bugler, Patrick Donnellan, Patrick O’Connor; Colm Galvin, Colin Ryan; John Conlon, Tony Kelly, Conor Ryan; Pádraic Collins, Darach Honan, Conor McGrath.
Cork: Anthony Nash; Stephen McDonnell, Shane O’Neill, Conor O’Sullivan; Brian Murphy, Christopher Joyce, William Egan; Lorcan Mc Loughlin, Daniel Kearney; Seamus Harnedy, Pa Cronin, Conor Lehane; Luke O’Farrell, Patrick Horgan, Jamie Coughlan.
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)